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EMPAC Building Dedication

by
Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.
President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Troy, N.Y.

Friday, October 3, 2008


Thank you, Chairman Heffner, for your generous introduction, and for your leadership of the Board of Trustees, which has lent its full support to EMPAC from the very beginning.

Before I begin my remarks, I would like to acknowledge some of the special guests who have joined us today...

  • Ronald Canestrari, New York State Assembly Majority Leader
  • Kathy Jimino, Rensselaer County Executive
  • Peter Grimm, Rensselaer County Legislator
  • Harry Tutunjian, Mayor of Troy
  • John McDonald, Mayor of Cohoes
  • Kenneth Zelewski, Rensselaer Class of '91, Troy City Council

I would like to welcome, especially, those who have joined us today from the Capital Region, and from the national and international community, to celebrate this historic occasion.

This is a great day for Rensselaer, because we gather together to dedicate and to celebrate the opening of this extraordinary facility. As Chairman Heffner said, this is an historic moment, a transformational moment for this university, whose roots stretch back to the Industrial Revolution.

In fact, the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center itself is actually grounded in the physical bedrock of Rensselaer. Within this bedrock stretches a geological feature that we know today as Emmons' Line, named for Ebenezer Emmons, a professor who was among our very first graduates in 1826. Emmons theorized that this feature was a formation of very old rock stacked atop younger rock — caused by a collision of the earth's plates — resulting in the rise of the Taconic Mountains to the east. His brilliant theory, so controversial in his lifetime, was proven to be correct, and it was just one of Emmons' discoveries which transformed American geology. Through his seminal work, New York State became the model for geologic surveys of much of the rest of the United States. So it is altogether fitting that EMPAC sits here, rooted in the bedrock of this history.

Ebenezer Emmons was very much in the mold of Amos Eaton, our first Head of School, and our founding benefactor, Stephen Van Rensselaer – revolutionary thinkers who began the bold experiment that was the Rensselaer School, in 1824. The key, in the original Rensselaerian Plan of the day, was to engage students in their education through experimentation and observation, and then through presentation of what they had learned. If these individuals were here today – and they are, in spirit – they would understand our aim with EMPAC, because it is a natural evolution of Amos Eaton's idea of engaged education. EMPAC is the ultimate platform for people to be engaged, and to be interactive, in combined virtual and physical environments, and – in this way – to use its features to probe the natural world and to create new things.

Through our Rensselaer Plan, which is the 21st century embodiment of our founding principles, we are creating a true Renaissance at Rensselaer. Just as Rensselaer led the way in making the technological advances that shaped the 19th and 20th centuries, it is re-shaping itself to address the challenges of our time, in an age where complexity of challenge demands complexity of approach. We have built new platforms that join many perspectives – across a broad intellectual front – to create, and to discover the new and the important. What we have created here in EMPAC exists nowhere else in the world, and I am confident that the work that will arise from it certainly will change the world.

Nine years ago, in my inaugural address, I challenged the Rensselaer community to dare to invest in new enterprises – areas in which Rensselaer had not been known, but which held great promise and value. The vision that gave birth to this incredible facility was already present then.

Eight years ago we formed the EMPAC Task Force, led by Professor of Mechanical, Aerospace and Nuclear Engineering – and musician – John Tichy. Its members included trustees, students, faculty, staff, and alumni; architects, scientists, engineers, business people, and artists, performers and spectators. All of them shared a common vision to bring EMPAC to life at Rensselaer.

The Task Force included, among others:

  • Harry Apkarian, Class of '46, trustee and constant supporter;
  • Alan Balfour, former Dean of the School of Architecture, who conceived of a design competition for EMPAC, which brought us the acclaimed design firm, Grimshaw;
  • Larry Kagan, Class of '68, one of the founders of the Rensselaer Arts Department;
  • Neil Rolnick, the founder of iEAR, the first electronic arts graduate program in the nation.
  • Dave Haviland, Class of '64, professor emeritus of architecture, and former Vice President for Student Life and for Institute Advancement;
  • Eddie Ade Knowles, Vice President for Student Life;
  • Charles Carletta, Secretary of the Institute;
  • Cynthia McIntyre-Williams, former Assistant Vice President for Policy and Planning and former Chief of Staff.

It was the due diligence and the shared vision of the EMPAC Task Force over some 15 months that assessed the needs of all campus constituencies, formed the parameters of the project, initiated and implemented the design competition, and pursued the idea that research would become integral to the project. The Task Force visited performing arts and media centers around the world. Through its visits and its deliberations, EMPAC took form, and ultimately, it brought us the talents of EMPAC Director Johannes Goebel.

This moment brings to mind the late Reverend Thomas Phelan, chaplain and dean of humanities and social sciences, whose persistence, some forty years ago, formed the Arts Department with faculty from architecture and engineering. How pleased I believe he would be if he could see where we are today.

Many in the Rensselaer community contributed to EMPAC along the way, from the fine work of the architectural acoustics group in the School of Architecture, in the acoustical modeling of the canopy in the Concert Hall, to Professors Thomas Zimmie and Ricardo Dobry of the Department of Civil Engineering, who consulted with regard to water intrusion and earthquake mitigation, respectively, and to all of the faculty who used examples of the design and construction challenges of the site as a "living laboratory" for Rensselaer students.

On a project of this size and scope, there are so many individuals – literally in the thousands – who led so many efforts which brought this tremendous project to fruition. We are grateful for each personís good work, and I hope that all of you are as proud as we are to be part of this historic project.

I would like to acknowledge the leadership of the major enterprises involved in EMPAC:

First, Sir Nicholas Grimshaw, chairman of design architects Grimshaw. I hope you will take the opportunity tomorrow morning to attend the lecture in the Concert Hall by Sir Nicholas and his design team to learn about the buildingís design process, its architecture, acoustics, and structure.

On a project of this size and scope, there are many consultants involved, as well, among them:

  • Davis Brody Bond, LLP, [the architect of record]
  • Buro Happold, [consulting engineers]
  • Fisher Dachs Associates [theatre design, project manager]
  • Kirkegaard Associates [acoustic design]
  • Turner Construction Company [construction manager]
  • Saratoga Associates [landscape design]
  • Adirondack Studios, Inc. [design build on variable acoustics and fabric ceiling]

EMPAC began as an idea that became a vision, and the vision is now a reality. We can make all of the plans in the world, but to make them real requires that others believe in our vision. We are most grateful for the financial support of those who have helped us to deliver the dream. Of course, I am talking about the generosity of our benefactors.

On behalf of the Board of Trustees, the students and faculty of Rensselaer, I extend our deepest thanks to those whose generosity is the heart of this dream: the late David Goodman of the Class of 1939, who believed in the promise before we even drew the blueprints; Amy and David Jaffe, Class of 1964, true patrons of the arts; Susan and Gary DiCamillo, Class of 1973; and Judith and Thomas Iovino, Class of 1973 – donors and volunteers who have given so much time and effort to support our Renaissance at Rensselaer campaign.

I also would like to acknowledge two other major benefactors of the performing arts at Rensselaer – Gail and Jeffrey Kodosky, Class of 1970, who have been generous supporters of the classical music program at Rensselaer for many years.

I have saved the best for last, because now, I would like to recognize our greatest benefactor, Curtis R. Priem, of the Class of 1982, and his wife, Veronica. Curtis' magnificent support we will acknowledge by forever associating his name with this dream that has become real.

I will introduce Curtis Priem to you.

Curtis R. Priem is an engineer. He also is a very successful entrepreneur... who has become an equally successful philanthropist. There are similarities between the entrepreneur and the philanthropist. They are both investors, certainly. They are both risk-takers. But above all, they are believers.

Curtis R. Priem, and his wife, Veronica, believe in the beauty and the promise of the arts at Rensselaer. As he will tell you, Curtis grew up with a love of music and the arts, inspired by his mother and his sister, and he began his own journey in music at the age of five by learning to play piano, trombone, and cello.

While he pursued his degree in electrical, computer and systems engineering, Curtis played the cello for four years in the Rensselaer orchestra, and he played for every musical performance of the RPI Players.

He also enrolled in the first electronic music class offered here – taught by Neil Rolnick, our seminal figure in the genre. Later, Curtis and a team of his fellow students developed high-level music generation software for the Rensselaer mainframe. It was an exciting time to be here.

Today, we open a new chapter for the arts, sciences, and engineering at Rensselaer, an historic moment that marks a sea change for the university. As entrepreneurs, Curtis and his family view their philanthropy as an investment, an investment in the future, which will yield a return many times over for our students, for our faculty, and for our community – as the amazing platform that is EMPAC broadens and changes the way we see the world, and the way we interpret and shape the world.

Curtis, I would like to ask you to join me as we unveil the name of our new Center.

On behalf of the entire Rensselaer community, I thank you for all that you have done for Rensselaer. Now, we would like to present you with this gift as a symbol of our enduring gratitude — a commissioned work of art by our very own Larry Kagan.

Mr. Kagan's work is not what it seems, because he works with shadow. For him, shadow is a metaphor for the unknown. This work of art is itself a metaphor — for the movement of an idea from the undefined to the fully formed.

I know that this is a concept that Curtis Priem understands very well.

It is my pleasure to introduce Curtis R. Priem, Class of 1982.


Source citations are available from Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Statistical data contained herein were factually accurate at the time it was delivered. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute assumes no duty to change it to reflect new developments.

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